Psychologist Natasha Hutchison working with children at Spectrum Psychology.
Psychologist Natasha Hutchison working with children at Spectrum Psychology. Iain Curry

Just a little Prep work can make a huge difference

ALL little Bailey Law did was make two friends within her first week of Prep.

Not yet five, she didn't realise how monumental that achievement was.

She had no clue that she had, in fact, conquered a hidden Everest that not many expected her to. Bailey has Asperger's syndrome.

Asperger's kids have immense trouble in social situations.

Making friends and finding your place in the scary new world of Prep is difficult at the best of times. It is much harder if you have Asperger's.

But Bailey did it. With a smile on her face and a thrill in her step.

"She's doing so well," her mum Erin said.

"She's been up and dressed in her uniform ready to go and she's made two friends, which is huge, and they are quite fond of her.

"She was the child I would drop off to kindy and she would sit on the far corner of the mat so she didn't have to sit with the other kids. And yet now she is asking me to do her hair in a ponytail on the side because that's the way her friend has it.

"I nearly cried when she asked me to do that. It is huge for a little girl with Asperger's."

Mrs Law has no doubt. The transition to school would have been nowhere near as positive without a 10-week Prepped for School program run by Natasha Hutchison at Spectrum Psychology in Coolum.

The program features information sessions for parents, role-playing activities for children in social and play skills, the school day routine and expected behaviours and a report for the child's teacher.

It helps children understand their feelings and the feelings of others, develop positive thoughts, build resilience and self-esteem, problem solve and learn important play, friendship and classroom behaviours.

It teaches parents about the schooling system and how to enhance their child's learning.

"It was a pleasant surprise to see how much had sunk in. Bailey was even referring back to what Natasha had taught her," Mrs Law said.

"She said the teacher had told them to look people in the eyes when you talk to them and she said 'mum, that's what Natasha said too'.

"She understood the expectations placed on her in the classroom, from sitting on the mat and dispute resolution to when to eat and lining up with the class.

"She learned how to ask to play with other kids and also how to exit a game. And the report Natasha gave Bailey's teachers showed them her preferencing in terms of rewards or incentives.

"(Doing the program) was great for me because I wasn't as anxious...and children feed off their parents.

"So I could walk in confidently (on day one) knowing that I had done everything I possibly could to prepare her.

"It was easy for me to wave and walk out because I knew she had it.

"And there were no tears from her. There were almost tears from me, not from being nervous or sad, but from being proud.

"I was overwhelmed with pride to see what she was capable of."

Erin Law with daughter Bailey at Spectrum Psychology, Coolum Beach.
Erin Law with daughter Bailey at Spectrum Psychology, Coolum Beach. Iain Curry

Those first weeks of school plunge kids into a washing-machine of emotions, many of them felt for the first time.

"There is the transition from a relaxed home environment and schedule to more structured six-hour a day routine," psychologist and autism specialist Natasha Hutchison said.

"A lot of children are still developing social and play skills, and every child is slightly different in their needs

"There can be anxiety and frustration over not understanding what is expected and the behaviour/s of others around them.

"And for Prep children, there can be issues around attachment to their parents, developing a rapport with the classroom teacher, having friends at school and being able to problem solve for themselves.

"They can be a bit tired. It's a big day for the little ones. And because there are so many more children in their environment, they have to have certain social skills to find their way, fit in, and develop positive friendships.

"They have also come from a developmental age of parallel play, where they simply play alongside other children, to play which requires reciprocal communication and interactions. So they need to negotiate, share, take turns and learn all those important play and friendship skills."

Miss Hutchison said any anxiety or out-of-the-ordinary behaviour would likely settle within a month, but any extreme, lasting distress should be followed up with the teacher, school or a psychologist.

"I would encourage parents to play with their children, to observe and try to teach them skills such as sharing, turn-taking, good sportsmanship, praising other people.

"Note where a child is struggling and where a meltdown may occur. Observe yourself what skill is missing, and then role play with your child that skill in a natural play setting."

The Prepped for School program can run at any time of the year, for any type of child, depending on interest.


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